February 2010

Letter for “Advice and Dissent”

Dear Greg,

Your editorial in ASBMB Today (December 2009) struck me as being a bit confused. Your denunciation of the British politician for not following the recommendation of a scientist to effectively reduce penalties on marijuana use shows a lack of understanding of the functions of the panel of experts and the politicians. The former are charged with giving their opinions on the best course their government should take, while the latter are charged with setting policy. Opinions, whether scientific or not, will probably be influenced by the biases, or call them the values, of the experts, and, like all scientific evidence, are inherently incomplete. Policies reflect many things, values (social, religious, economic, etc.) above all, but also fears as to the results of following the panel’s recommendations. Politicians are, after all, elected to set policies and to be held responsible for their consequences. If the consequences are bad, no one will remember the panels or who was on them, only the politician(s).

I think you are right, however, that legalization (“decriminalization”) of pot is indeed a flashpoint dividing liberals from conservatives. Liberals tend to stress all the good things they believe will ensue from some proposed change, while conservatives tend to think of all the bad things that might result. As a card-carrying conservative myself (the deuce or trey of clubs, probably), I tend to stress the latter.

To me, there are too many questions involving effects of higher dosages of active ingredient, especially upon the young, and control over suppliers to feel assured of the overall benefits of such a course. Then too, there is a generally ignored question of the social irresponsibility of illegal drug users. Not all changes, however passionately advocated, merit support.

John M. Brewer
Professor of biochemistry and molecular biology
University of Georgia

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